CBCC member interview - Ing. Martin Stranak, professional translator and interpreter

On his freelancer’s career, challenges and opportunities of his profession, spending time with John McCain in the US Senate, reasons for being a ‘lone wolf’, taking multitasking to a new level, and so much more…

Can you summarise your background?

I am originally from the Czech Republic but went to school in South Africa; when I returned, I worked in international trade first and then studied economics and law at the university. During my studies I began translating and interpreting (English and Czech) and in 2005 I was appointed a sworn interpreter. Now I run a one-man show language services business. I spent five years living and working in London but I am currently back in the Czech Republic. My services include translating (including certified translations) and interpreting; sometimes I also see myself as a consultant as I for example helped clients settle and start businesses in the Czech Republic.

In addition to Czech and English, do you work with other languages?

Not on a professional level. I can cope with German in terms of a general conversation and I also speak French but would use it only when lost in Paris trying to find my way.

Why did you leave London?

Even the Londoners say that after five years one either stays or moves out of the city. I came to the UK after my graduation in 2007, and lived in Kingston upon Thames, then moved to Golders Green, a home of many Czechs in the UK, and later to Mill Hill. Throughout my life I lived in South Africa, the UK and the US but I was by myself. When I turned 30, I met my girlfriend and settled down. However, I keep in touch with people in London, e.g. Zdenek Kudr, CEO and founder of Bohem Brewery. When I was leaving London, he was just arriving. And I basically keep commuting between Prague and London anyway.

What are the biggest challenges for you as a language services provider?

One of the challenges an interpreter may face is a fresh client who has never worked with a language specialist before. When travelling with a client, you may get treated as an employee being taken for a nice holiday abroad, not as someone hired to work certain hours a day. That’s quite funny. Another challenge is the diversity of English dialects and variations, which comes with the origin of the client. In addition, interpreting is like any other profession, so very competitive. There are large corporations out there that tend to monopolise the language market as well as providers of language services to governments, which does not leave much room for freelancers. And then, in specific industries, for example in IT, some terms get adopted without translation - this trend also pushes interpreters out.

What’s your specialisation?

I’ve always specialised on military and defence. I used to work for the Czech Ministry of Defence on several projects over years. I don’t get involved in subjects matters such as finance, banking and various specialised topics in medicine. I studied economics and law, so my main domain is business law, contracts, engineering, logistics, etc. No interpreter can cover more than four to six fields. There is no one who can do perfectly everything.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety of people I meet; I’ve worked with different clients on small and large jobs lasting several months. I did an interpreting job for a Czech client with whom I spent one week in the US Senate in meetings involving various people, including Senator John McCain, so that’s really an unforgettable experience.

Have you got a funny story you could share?

I got invited to a company to interpret at a meeting which involved a German owner, his father, Czech people and one Englishman. The conversation started with an introduction by the owner in English but then his father joined in speaking German. So I interpreted from German to English for the Englishman and from German to Czech for the Czech people, consecutively. 20 minutes later I was sweating like a horse gasping for air and when they asked what was wrong I explained I am a Czech English interpreter and tried to help but translating three languages simultaneously takes multitasking to a truly new level. They laughed and then we continued in Czech and English. My brain was literally cooking and was about to pour out of my ears like a volcano but I managed. It can be tough even in two languages when you get a group of people and everyone wants to share something at the same time. When you do this all day long, in the evening you don’t want to see or hear anyone, you just collapse. But this job can also be very interesting and unpredictable.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Doing the same but the world is changing so rapidly that nobody knows where they will be in five years. In the past, I was trying to establish some new businesses. For example, in the UK I set up a company importing water from Slovakia, good enough to make baby formula without boiling it. The UK authority wrote to me however, that the UK customer is not ready for this and every GP recommends boiling water before making baby formula. And then every single person I was trying to start business with always tried to play some tricks on me. So I’d rather see myself as a ‘lone wolf’ or as a single freelancer/professional. In the future I wouldn’t mind relocating and working as a consultant in business development in a different country. However, at the moment I am happy where I am - I contribute to connecting people and most of the time the outcome is a good one, which is a great feeling.   

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee

We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email terezaurbankova@yahoo.com if you are interested.

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